The University of Arkansas Community Design Center, working with the U of A Resiliency Center, has been awarded the 2018 Unique Contribution to Planning Award from the Arkansas Chapter of the American Planning Association.

The winning study, "Livability Improvement Plan for Willow Heights Housing," offers three scenarios for revitalizing a Fayetteville public housing complex, thereby keeping residents within walking distance of downtown.

The plan proposes development of a blended-income neighborhood through rehabilitation of existing units and construction of additional market-rate and subsidized units. This positions the city to profitably manage its assets while creating a healthy neighborhood through social return on investment, said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center.

"What all three scenarios are trying to do is rebuild the neighborhood logic through renovation of existing housing, which connects better with other housing units and with the site," Luoni said. "Hopefully, we can create a neighborhood where you don't sense compartmentalization between incomes, where everyone lives at the same level."

Luoni is also a Distinguished Professor and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies at the university. The Community Design Center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School.

The U of A Resiliency Center, an interdisciplinary sustainability initiative hosted by the Fay Jones School, worked with the Community Design Center to address storm water management for the site. The hillside development, built in the 1970s, has been prone to increased flooding and erosion with recent extreme weather events.

"We recommended a series of channel and embayment systems, above ground and below ground, to reduce the flow of water leaving the site," said Marty Matlock, executive director of the Resiliency Center and a professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering in the College of Engineering at the university. "The site actually becomes an amenity to its downstream neighbors."

The Willow Heights plan was commissioned by the Endeavor Foundation, a local organization working to improve quality of life for Northwest Arkansas residents, as an alternative to the Fayetteville Housing Authority's plan to sell the Willow Heights complex to a private developer. That would have resulted in relocating the low-income residents to another complex farther from the downtown area.

Melissa Terry, a Fayetteville Housing Authority board member and a public policy degree candidate at the U of A, received the Citizen Planner Award from the Arkansas APA for her role in developing the Willow Heights Plan and her advocacy for affordable housing areawide through planning and policy support.

AuthorLinda Komlos

An exhibition of project models and drawings for a plan to improve livability at the Willow Heights housing complex will be on display through July 10 at the Fayetteville Public Library.

The "Livability Improvement Plan for Willow Heights Housing" in Fayetteville was commissioned by the Endeavor Foundation in December 2017.

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center, with assistance from the University of Arkansas Resiliency Center, prepared the scenario planning study. Both are outreach centers of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the university.

 The Willow Heights public housing complex is located in a historically diverse downtown neighborhood on the southwest slope of Mount Sequoyah. The Fayetteville Housing Authority owns and manages this complex within the federal public housing portfolio administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This study offers an unconsidered development option that supplements the Fayetteville Housing Authority's pending plan to sell the downtown Willow Heights complex and relocate its residents to the Morgan Manor complex south of downtown. 

The planning study proposes to transform the 5-acre downtown Willow Heights public housing complex into a blended-income neighborhood that flattens social distinctions between proposed market-rate units and refurbished low-income housing. Site proposals articulate a new housing landscape that supports healthy neighborhood functioning, including safe, modernized and appropriately scaled mixed-market housing.

Three planning scenarios were prepared, ranging in cost and level of difficulty to construct. Scenario planning is intended to facilitate more robust decision making among an expanded community of stakeholders in partnership with the Fayetteville Housing Authority, including the city of Fayetteville, housing residents, local and regional civic groups, and policy leaders with an interest in housing.

Most public housing agencies are cash-strapped and pressured to sell legacy downtown properties, which have unexpectedly accrued value from the comeback of downtowns nationwide, said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. He is also a Distinguished Professor and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School.

The sale of Willow Heights fits the FHA's current business model and potentially fills funding gaps. However, the decision to sell the downtown property has sparked a larger community conversation about social justice issues, including projected transportation cost burdens on relocated residents.

Among the low-income populations living in public housing, many are single-parent families who don't own cars. The location of Willow Heights suits this population because the complex is close to a local elementary school, the Fayetteville Public Library, the downtown farmer's market, a community center that supports families, and local government agencies. Notably, Willow Heights is adjacent to the Yvonne Richardson Community Center, an important child development center and community hub used by residents citywide.

The Willow Heights study signals new possibilities in combining affordable housing with market-rate housing that creates new revenue streams in support of the public housing component. The more progressive housing agencies nationally now see the city as an integrated housing market — a "ladder," Luoni said.

Some public housing agencies are not only delivering public housing assistance, but also other forms of affordable housing such as attainable workforce housing and market-rate housing. Solving for one area provides solutions for the others, he said.

"We are very pleased with our stakeholder collaborations toward developing new directions in housing and placemaking that solve for social and environmental challenges," Luoni said. "More than ever, we need holistic solutions that capture niche skillsets in both the public and private sectors, while involving a wider cross-section of public agency input. Though not easy, Willow Heights could be a model solution if the political process wills it."

Several Fay Jones School architecture students contributed to this scenario planning report, including Kyle Adams, Kyle Beard, Amy Larson, Michelle Mace, Evan McMinn and Thomas Wise-Ehlers. Specialized Real Estate Group provided cost estimating assistance for this project.

The full report is available on the UACDC's website.

The Fayetteville Public Library is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and from 1-5 p.m. Sunday. It will be closed for the July 4 holiday. 

AuthorLinda Komlos

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center, working with the U of A Resiliency Center, has been awarded a 2018 Green Good Design Award for Green Urban Planning/Landscape Architecture by the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum for Architecture and Design. 

The winning proposal, "Whitmore Community Food Hub Complex: Building Community around Food," would help bring locally produced food to Hawaii, where 93 percent of the food is imported. In addition to providing logistics for an underserved agricultural community, the Whitmore complex would serve additional community needs through micro-housing for the agricultural workforce, retail, business incubation and cultural tourism. 

"Our project team's relationship with the state of Hawaii is based on the use of design thinking to address systemic challenges related to food security," said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. "It is enormously gratifying to be part of a multi-sectoral effort that values the role of placemaking in advancing community resilience and business incubation in local agriculture." 

Luoni is also a Distinguished Professor and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies. The center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School.

The project was a collaborative effort between the Community Design Center and the U of A Resiliency Center, an interdisciplinary sustainability initiative hosted by the Fay Jones School.

Marty Matlock is the executive director of the U of A Resiliency Center and a professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering in the College of Engineering at the university.

"This project highlights the creative value of the Resiliency Center's interdisciplinary collaboration across food, water and community systems," Matlock said. "The Whitmore Community Food Hub design is a model not only for the neighbor islands in Hawaii, but for Pine Bluff and Springdale, Arkansas. We are reinventing food supply chains from the producer to the consumer, with a clear focus on economic, social and environmental sustainability."

This is the third time these collaborators have received a Green Good Design Award together. The project was sponsored by the Agribusiness Development Corporation of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

The proposed Food Hub would serve Oahu communities while advancing a "missing middle" agricultural infrastructure template for community-based food production among Hawaii's neighbor islands. 

Four principles guided the planning and design of the 34-acre Whitmore Food Hub Complex: logistics, placemaking, connectivity and anchoring. The complex provides a Food Hub that meets the stringent requirements of the forthcoming Food Safety Modernization Act. It integrates the logistical spaces of the Food Hub with surrounding neighborhoods through serial public spaces that sponsor multiple uses. It connects the Food Hub and Whitmore Village to downtown Wahiawa, and it uses mixed-use spaces and civic frontages to socialize the Food Hub's big boxes and tilt wall concrete construction.

The project will be exhibited this year at venues in Athens, Dublin and Chicago.

The Green Good Design Award aims to bring public appreciation and awareness to global design projects that emphasize sustainability and ecological restoration. 

AuthorLinda Komlos

The University of Arkansas and the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design will offer a new Master of Design Studies degree program beginning in fall 2019. It is the first graduate-level program offered by the Fay Jones School in its 70-plus-year history.

The graduate program, which was approved last week by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education’s Coordinating Board, features initial areas of concentration in Resiliency Design and in Hospitality and Retail Design.

“These programs, developed over the last three years with input from multiple stakeholders, are the first steps in advanced architecture and design studies, and they capitalize on the strengths of the school, the university, the Northwest Arkansas region and, indeed, the state,” Dean Peter MacKeith said. “Equally, graduate-level education in these specialized areas prepares students to address opportunities and challenges nationwide and throughout the world.” The concentrations have been developed with global leaders in the respective fields and are unique in their focus, expertise and resources.

Resiliency Design will engage students at the scale of the community and the region, investigating contemporary issues such as water, mobility, food, housing, aging and public health, while preparing communities for the challenges of the future.

A recent study by the National Institute of Building Sciences found that every federal grant dollar spent on disaster mitigation and resiliency can save the U.S. government an average of $6.

The U of A Resiliency Center, newly formed in the Fay Jones School, and the U of A Community Design Center directly support this area of study. The Resiliency Center, whose creation also was approved last week by the state Department of Higher Education, provides leadership in sustainable strategies and cross-disciplinary knowledge necessary for complex problem solving. The Resiliency Center’s director, Marty Matlock, is also a professor of biological and agricultural engineering and executive director of the Office for Sustainability.

“The challenges in community, food and water systems resilience we face this century require integrated thinking across discipline boundaries,” Matlock said. “The design process, with its focus on driving outcomes, provides a framework for creating new ways of understanding from multiple knowledge domains. We must be able to use every tool in our toolbox, and create new tools, if the promise of community prosperity is to be realized in Northwest Arkansas, the state and the region. The Master of Design Studies provides the framework for integrating knowledge and technology with arts and the humanities to create new ways of understanding these complex challenges.”

The Community Design Center offers a professional staff with practice and teaching experience and design work that has received more than 130 awards and brought $70 million in grant funding. The center is a Regional Resilience Design Studio, designated by the AIA Foundation. The center’s director, Steve Luoni, is also the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School.

“Resiliency is driven by the public sector’s ever greater need to withstand disruptive events, entailing the reimagining of governance and management,” Luoni said. “To achieve this, leading cities and regions are becoming significant consumers of design thinking since this is the level where many of the social, economic, and environmental challenges are addressed. The Resiliency Design concentration triangulates design thinking with policy and placemaking to solve for challenges across multiple sectors in the built environment. A new type of design problem solving in the public interest will become available to Northwest Arkansas and the state as each evolves toward greater prosperity.”

Collaborations and Partnerships

Hospitality and Retail Design engages experts in the Fay Jones School with campus collaborators within the Sam M. Walton College of Business and the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences. Carl Matthews, professor and department head of interior design, noted that there is no other graduate design program in the United States with specializations in these market sectors. With online shopping challenging the value of bricks-and-mortar environments, retailers are investing in innovative environments that transform customer experience and engage the senses. Similarly, hoteliers must respond to guests seeking high-tech amenities and local, authentic experiences in personalized settings. With design fees in the hospitality and retail sectors exceeding $895 million in 2017, professional opportunities in these areas of specialization are robust.

“The Master of Design Studies program is a unique and innovative program coming out of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design,” said Matthew Waller, dean of the Walton College of Business. “Dean Peter MacKeith and his colleagues are visionary leaders and creative colleagues with which to collaborate. As a consequence, this master's program will advance the Fay Jones School, the University of Arkansas, and our land-grant mission. … This retail design-centered program builds on the strengths of the Walton College of Business. A recent journal ranked us second in the world for retail research productivity.”

Carl A. Kernodle (B.Arch. ’91), vice president of planning and design worldwide for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, noted that, like so many architecture practice sectors, there exists the need to know specifics about that market. Traditionally, it takes years of experience to gain this exposure and proficiency. The hospitality design world requires individuals to possess this expertise in order to be a productive participant in daily problem-solving activities. This new Hospitality Design concentration gives U of A students the opportunity to obtain that specialized design knowledge base in a focused educational environment.

“This is an uncommon opportunity,” Kernodle said. “Graduate students exposed to the specific industry vocabulary, organizational operations, planning nuances, customer drivers will be extremely attractive to hospitality businesses and design firms. The hospitality industry will gain from the injection of these skilled graduates who will enter into the hospitality workplace with a unique familiarity that will allow them to immediately share their beneficial skills, creativity and energy.”

The concentrations within the Master of Design Studies will feature residencies in professional practices, business settings, municipalities and not-for-profit organizations.

“Our partnerships with national and global enterprises will allow students to hone their skills in these professional environments.” MacKeith said. “These valuable opportunities will also prepare students more deeply for the management practices that are now essential to the success of design enterprises beyond the academy. As well, these design-centered graduate programs, when combined with design thinking and design leadership coursework, are intended to lead to innovation in all these concentrations.”

The master degree structure provides for further concentrations, and the Fay Jones School is exploring the viability of programs in integrated wood design, preservation design, and health and wellness design.

The promotion and recruitment efforts for the initial groups of students in these two concentrations will begin in August 2018, with anticipated enrollment starting in August 2019.

AuthorLinda Komlos

Two books published by ORO Editions in 2017 highlight projects developed by the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, an outreach program of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design.

The books are Conway Urban Watershed Framework Plan and Houses for Aging Socially: Developing Third Place Ecologies. The first fuses ecological engineering and urban design to address the water quality issues of an urban watershed, while the second focuses on the unique housing needs of an aging population.

Both were written and developed under the leadership of Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School.

Conway Urban Watershed Framework Plan grew from a design project of the same name. The Community Design Center worked with the U of A Office for Sustainability to develop the plan, which addresses the impact of urbanization on the 42-square-mile urban sub-watershed that incorporates much of Conway in Central Arkansas.

Funded in part by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, the plan provides city planners and community designers with tools to retrofit a city with green infrastructure and open spaces that reduce the damages from increasingly frequent extreme rainfall events.

Such a plan would have helped the city of Houston and the Gulf Coast of Louisiana weather the effects of extreme flooding and a hurricane last year, Luoni said.

"Considering that city and watershed are distinct systems of flow, generating their own shape and structure across the landscape, how can city form fix the watershed when they occupy the same space?" he said. "City planners focus solely on the human element of design, while environmentalists ignore the issues cities face. We tried to reconcile those extremes in our plan."

The project was an interdisciplinary collaboration between architects, planners, engineers, economists and ecologists. The portfolio of infrastructural elements includes a sponge city gradient, green streets, water treatment art parks, urban eco-farms, conservation neighborhoods, parking gardens, riparian corridor improvements, lake aerators, vegetative harvesters and floating bio-mats, and a city greenway.

The plan won an international LafargeHolcim Acknowledgement Award in October and a 2017 Green Good Design Award for Urban Planning/Landscape Architecture by the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum for Architecture and Design. It also will be awarded a 2018 Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design by the American Institute of Architects during the AIA Convention and Expo in June.

Houses for Aging Socially: Developing Third Place Ecologies grew from a concern that housing outside the nation's urban centers does not adequately address the mobility, access and social needs of seniors.

"As Baby Boomers turn 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day over the next 20 years, we are finding that both the health care system and housing stock are overwhelmed by the scale of need," Luoni said. "Cooperative forms of living involving pocket neighborhoods, new types of housing fabrics and affordable design keep people in their houses so they don't have to be institutionalized."

The book reworks components of the familiar single-family home to promote new levels of neighborhood connection — allowing residents to live alone but in close proximity to neighbors and friends. Design concepts such as connected hyper-porches, live-work patios and garage galleries used for pop-up businesses foster both neighborhood interaction and independent living.

"A majority of residents in senior homes are there due to social deficits rather than medical problems, as friends or family have moved on or their former homes were simply unaccommodating," Luoni said. "The key is to recombine housing types with care service platforms so that residents can 'age in community' while maintaining some independence."

The book is based on a housing master plan study for the town of Freeman, South Dakota, developed in part in a spring 2016 studio for Fay Jones School students. Funded by an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the project won a 2016-17 Housing Design Education Award from the American Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the American Institute of Architects.

Like all Community Design Center projects, the book uses a specific example to describe a larger transferable planning and design vocabulary that other communities can adapt to their needs, Luoni said.

"We're offering a prototype for policymakers, city planners, designers and others to use," he said. "Both publications give us a vehicle to shape and codify design-based approaches to complex — or 'wicked' — social problems in which design has not yet been fully engaged."

An earlier book, Low-Impact Development: A Design Manual for Urban Areas, has sold more than 7,000 copies and has been translated into Chinese, Luoni said. That book was self-published with EPA funding in 2010.

The two books published by ORO Editions are the center's first foray into work with a traditional publishing company. A third book for ORO, a monograph of Community Design Center work under Luoni's leadership for the past 14 years, is under discussion, he said.

AuthorLinda Komlos